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Merle

Merle

I Do Not Come to You by Chance - Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani This is one of those books that takes a grim situation and turns it into a fun and entertaining story: the background is poverty and corruption in Nigeria, but the book is the polar opposite of, say, [b:The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born|264587|The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born|Ayi Kwei Armah|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1338642082s/264587.jpg|699269], which deals with similar themes; this one is quick and easy to read, exciting, and very nearly uplifting.

Kingsley is the oldest son of a family that values education above all else, but he's been unemployed for two years after graduating with a degree in chemical engineering. His parents are well-educated and rigidly ethical, but struggling to make ends meet; his father is ill and his girlfriend impatient for a husband who can provide some financial security. When things go badly wrong, Kingsley turns to his estranged uncle, "Cash Daddy," who's made a fortune by scamming foreigners online. Cash Daddy soon offers him a job, and the second half of the book follows Kingsley through his adventures as a scam artist.

I had a great time reading this--it was one of those books that made me look forward to getting home and finding out what would happen next, and once I'd started, no other books were allowed to get in the way! It is well-paced and entertaining throughout, and although the email scams first appear later than I'd expected, that first half is important to setting up the characters and their situations. Most people have some curiosity about the secret world of criminal activity (and even if we haven't thought specifically about online scammers before, we've all gotten those emails and wondered who would be dumb enough to reply), and this book certainly feeds that. At the same time, it's a good piece of world fiction, painting a picture of a society in crisis and how people respond.

The tone is fairly light, although the subject matter is not--and this works well, resulting in a book that deals with serious issues without taking itself too seriously. Kingsley's voice is fresh and often humorous; some have taken the odd figures of speech as bad writing, but I enjoyed them (and I'm told this is representative of how people in talk in Nigeria). For instance: "I rummaged through my shirts. Most of them were dead, and had been for a very long time." Kingsley is also given to hyperbole: "He gave me a tentative estimate. The amount nearly shattered my eardrums." While it's not great literature, the language does a good job of creating and sustaining a voice and is very readable.

As for the characterization, it's fairly broad-brush, although certainly adequate. Kingsley's personal transformation makes him an interesting protagonist, but the most colorful figure is certainly Cash Daddy: corrupt and unscrupulous, but generous with his family, staff, and community, he's loud, crude, and larger-than-life. His justifications for his actions and occasional self-deception are especially entertaining. The secondary cast is more one-note, but sufficient for their roles. And the ending leaves the reader with plenty of think about.

Other reviewers have commented that this book seems tailor-made for a non-African audience, there seems to be some truth to this. For instance, when Kingsley's father suffers a stroke, he and his family are shocked and appalled to find out that no hospital will treat him without an advance deposit, and that they're expected to provide all medical supplies. For an American or European reader, this is shocking, but wouldn't people who've lived in Nigeria all their lives know how their own medical system works? But the book never seems dumbed-down or exploitative; I can't speak to how Nigerian readers might like it, but since the author is Nigerian and I'm not, I'm inclined to trust her portrayal of the country.

Overall, a very fun book with the potential to appeal to a wide audience. While I wouldn't expect to see it taught in a comparative literature class, I would recommend it to those who enjoy world fiction and those looking to branch out in their reading.